An Unconsidered People: 2021

 In Diary, Events, News

Twenty years ago, I travelled back and forth to Kilburn and Cricklewood, in order to meet the Irish who had settled there during the economically dark decade of the 1950s.

I chose to focus on those areas because, at that time, two decades ago, they were known as ‘another Irish county’.
People told me that they settled there because the area was located close enough to Euston Station: the end of their journey. You could walk, they said, from the train station to Kilburn and Cricklewood while carrying a suitcase.

I could have chosen any number of other locations – Coventry, Manchester, Liverpool – but I believed that the intense concentration of Irish communities in London would allow me to understand, not just their experiences, but the experiences of other immigrants in other cities all over the UK.

I wanted to gather these immigrant stories before they were lost to us forever. The people I interviewed were, even then, in their late sixties or early seventies: having fled Ireland as teenagers or young twenty-somethings.

And they were eager to tell of their experiences: of enforced emigration, for the most part; of a sense of adventure, in some cases; of the need to escape the social suffocations of rural Ireland – their reasons for leaving were many and varied. Women had particularly interesting tales to tell, and their pattern of emigration from Ireland showed an independence of spirit which was illuminating.

An Unconsidered People: 2021

We’ve had waves of emigration since: most notably in the 1980s and post-crash. I’ve added a new chapter to this updated edition, exploring the economic circumstances that led to such mass departures from this country.

I’m delighted that New Island Books has published this new edition, and very grateful to Professor Diarmaid Ferriter for his generous Foreword.

And I’m still grateful to my numerous interviewees, who gave of their time – and their tea! – so willingly. A particular word of thanks to Phyllis Izzard, who started it all, during a conversation on a boat from Croatia to Venice.

Happy 80th birthday, Phyllis Izzard!

an unconsidered people 21 - catherine dunne author

  • Catherine Brown

    Hello, Ms. Dunne. I listened to the podcast in which Finn Dwyer interviewed you, and I just ordered your book. I was totally absorbed by all you said, and it saddened me. I know you’ve heard this story a half a million times, but my mother came to this country in 1939 from Falcarragh, Donegal, after an Irish aunt in Philadelphia brought over two of her brothers. It was the classic pattern of the youngest daughter staying in Ireland to care for my aging grandparents, and the oldest son staying on the farm. My great-grandfather purchased the farm sometime in the 1860s after coming to the U.S. and earning enough money to return home and buy a farm (apparently he didn’t like it here anyway). Before coming to this country, my uncles were hired by small farmers on the Lagan River and hated it so much that they eventually were glad to come to America. Another uncle worked his entire adulthood in Manchester, England, and retired in Derry. My grandfather and uncles were very talented carpenters, and the husband of my aunt was an blacksmith whose family had been in Ireland for five generations; the family forge dates back to the 1800s, and one of my cousins still uses it. My mother had a limited education and worked as a domestic for most of her life despite being considered the “clever one” in the family; she knew her Irish very well. Her family and countless others like it were robbed of a decent and peaceful life–she told me that she had never wanted to leave Ireland. At any rate, what I wanted to share in particular is how sad I am to think that my mother couldn’t afford to go home until 1977 and missed her family so much. She sent money and clothes through the years to her family, and we never knew about the extent of her generosity till after she had died. I never understood the depth of her sorrow until I had kids of my own. “Tragic” doesn’t begin to capture the plight and suffering of the Irish due to Britain’s treatment toward the country and its people. I have been to Ireland many times to visit my cousins and will continue to do so, but their life could have been mine.

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